CHRIS WHEELER: Man United's Atletico clash was anything but friendly

CHRIS WHEELER: A friendly against Atletico Madrid is one of football’s great contradictions… this was not a stroll in the Oslo sunshine for Man United and Anthony Martial’s injury could have implications for Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Manchester United suffered a 1-0 defeat against Atletico Madrid on Saturday  
  • Fred saw red while in-form forward Anthony Martial picked up a worrying injury 
  • It was the ideal test for Erik ten Hag as he looks to toughen up his players

Fred saw red, Anthony Martial picked up a worrying injury that could have implications for Cristiano Ronaldo and Erik ten Hag suffered his first defeat as Manchester United manager. Safe to say, this was not a stroll in the Oslo sunshine for Ten Hag and his players.

A friendly against Atletico Madrid is one of football’s great contradictions, and it was no surprise to see United dragged into a rather niggly pre-season battle with Diego Simeone’s side at the Ullevaal Stadion that was decided by an 87th minute goal from Joao Felix.

It ended with Fred being shown a second yellow card by referee Espen Eskas in the 90th minute after he appeared to plant his studs into the body of Alvaro Morata as the Atletico substitute lay on the floor, having previously been booked for hacking down Angel Correa.

Manchester United were involved in a physical clash with Atletico Madrid on Saturday

Despite defeat it was the ideal match for Erik ten Hag as he looks to toughen up his players

The caution count reached seven and there could easily have been a few more. Two of them went to Scott McTominay and Jan Oblak following a 20-man melee in the Atletico box shortly before half-time when the Spanish side reacted furiously to the United midfielder barging their goalkeeper to the ground.

If Ten Hag was looking to toughen his team up in readiness for the new season, then this was the ideal test. United were forced to fight every step of the way, and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing for a group of players who were less than united last season.

If he was looking for more goals after scoring 13 in four games on pre-season tour, then the Dutchman was left disappointed.

United had chances through Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire but failed to score for the first time under their new manager.

Fred was handed a red card in a match that was anything but friendly against Atletico

More concerning was an injury to Martial who received treatment just before the hour mark as Simeone was making 10 substitutions, and went off holding his hamstring shortly afterwards.

The Frenchman was one of the success stories of United’s tour, reviving his Old Trafford career with three goals and two assists to the point that he was nailed on to lead the attack in next weekend’s opening game at home to Brighton.

Martial looked lively again here and Ten Hag will hope his injury is only a minor one. If not, the manager will have a decision to make over Ronaldo who has declared himself fit to play in Sunday’s final friendly with a largely second string against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford.

United staff believe the 37-year-old is still three weeks away from full fitness after missing the entire pre-season for family reasons, although his absence coincided with his agent Jorge Mendes trying to engineer a move away from Old Trafford.

Ten Hag is likely to look for other solutions within his squad if Martial is unavailable, but a dramatic return for Ronaldo cannot be ruled out at this stage.

Anthony Martial suffered a worrying injury which might implications for Cristiano Ronaldo

If there was any consolation over the departure of United’s No.9, it was the arrival of Christian Eriksen as his replacement off the bench to make his debut after joining United a free agent.

The Dane was given a huge welcome by his Nordic neighbours inside the Ullevaal Stadion and produced a hugely promising performance during his 20 minutes on the pitch here.

While United had struggled to create chances against a typically obdurate Atletico side, Eriksen delivered one exquisite diagonal pass that evaded Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga by inches. Then it was his corner that picked out Harry Maguire in front of goal but the United captain couldn’t beat Oblak with a free header.

It proved costly as Joao Felix struck three minutes from the end of normal time. The ball reached the Brazilian out on the left and he cut inside Diogo Dalot before using the Portuguese as a shield to deceive David de Gea with a low shot inside his right-hand post.

United had their chances, particularly early on when Rashford raced away down the left onto Bruno Fernandes’ throughball and tested Oblak at his near post before Martial latched onto a loose ball and fired over under pressure from two defenders.

But Atletico could have scored twice in the first half when Angel Correra blazed over and Victor Lindelof recovered from a hashed clearance to nick the ball off Geoffrey Kondogbia’s toes in front of goal. Second-half substitute Saul Niguez was then guilty of missing from point-blank range when he met a Joao Felix cross in the box.

The little Brazilian, who was on target in February as Atletico knocked United out of the Champions League, then came up with the decider to give Simeone the spoils and Ten Hag some food for thought as the clock counts down to next weekend’s big kick-off.

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